Joe Biden is not the only moderate running in a competitive Democratic primary. But, he is the only one with a shot of winning the nomination. The front-runner, battered and bruised, had long stood out for standing up to his party’s left-wing stances on single payer healthcare, abortion on demand, and bipartisanship.
But one by one, Biden has cast off his more moderate mantle in favor of cozying up to enough progressives to win the nomination. First, there was Biden’s reversal on the Hyde Amendment. Biden now thinks it is cool to use taxpayer dollars to fund abortions (but only because Republicans made him do it). It was bad enough Biden did this but Biden’s ineptitude only gets worse.
After Kamala Harris ate his lunch at the first Democratic primary debate over Biden’s record on desegregated school busing, Biden thought it wise to continue to beat a dead horse. Biden tried to recover from the debate by continuing to argue he understands civil rights/race relations and he believes bipartisanship is not dead. His fight with Corey Booker over the issue did not go much better.
But, in recognition of how bad the issue is playing for the front-runner, Biden now has apologized for working with former segregationists but insists it still was worth it. At the worst, Biden was losing his support among progressives who were being drawn to Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Biden at least still had strength among moderates for resisting the worse impulses of the party. But, Biden’s withdrawal on yet another issue questions whether even he can resist the leftward tilt of his party.
Biden retains his strength among Democrats based on the idea he best can beat Trump. But, little by little, that view is being washed away. Walk with me for a moment and imagine Biden actually is not the strongest candidate. Imagine he simultaneously is not progressive enough for the party base and yet cowtails to progressive Democrats so much he turns off moderate, swing voters.
Biden’s claim to faith among the donor class, and his voting bloc is he represents a return to normalcy and a time of moderation. It plays well among the general electorate but against Democratic opponents, not so much.
Democrats have long struggled to break through in the Sun-Belt states they feel are turning blue at the Presidential level. But, until 2016, they believed they had a bulwark in the Midwest. Trump changed that.
Most Democratic primary voters don’t recognize the disconnect between the type of candidate they need to win these emerging purple states and bring back Midwest states in the fold. A Joe Biden style candidate would play well in the Midwest and probably ensure the party takes back the White House (with or without the Sunbelt).
But, the party is increasingly resembling their growing Sun-Belt coalition. Plus, Sun-Belt states have an outsized role in the primary process. This helps even more in fueling the leftward drip of the party. Despite the warm feelings felt about Biden due to his tenure as Obama’s VP, questions persisted about the former VP’s ability to navigate an increasingly liberal party electorate and run a modern campaign. After the first debate and subsequent flip-flops, those questions have only increased. Not lessened.
In the end, the only thing which might make Democrats take stock of their party’s ideological leanings and its downsides might be a loss to Trump. Even then, it is likely the party will move further left.
We already have an interesting test case to utilize about this hypothetical. The Democratic House Caucus, fresh off a shellacking of Republicans last November, should be uniting around positive, unifying legislation which brings members together.
Instead, the Caucus is divided over impeachment, immigration and spending. Last week, this divide was showcased when over 80 House Democrats voted against an emergency funding bill providing support for immigration centers at the border.
It might sound comforting to think electoral losses push a party more toward the center to galvanize the electoral middle but in reality it usually pushes a party further left (or right) to compensate for their electoral failings. Candidates who try to straddle this middle generally don’t win. Plus, the young and hip is cool. Candidates who have governed for awhile or have a history of policy success rarely win the White House (since 1944, no Presidential candidate who has served more than 12 years has won the White House).
In the end though, maybe nobody could stop the leftward drift of the party. And the country will be the worse for it.